NEW YORK — What, really, is a fashion show? Discuss.
Of course, there’s the well-worn formula: People wait in line for ages, sit down, wait some more, look at clothes for about 10 minutes, spend another half-hour greeting and double-cheek kissing, then go do the same thing somewhere else.
But lately, fashion shows have been stretching those boundaries. It’s not a totally new trend, but the New York Fashion Week that ended Wednesday saw a fashion show as a dance performance, a fashion show as a vintage car exhibit, a fashion show as a rap concert/burlesque show (together!), a fashion show as an excuse for a big party, a fashion show as a female empowerment group and more.
Some of it was weird, some wonderful, some both. Here are some notable moments of the week:
FIRST: LESLIE JONES
If there’s any justice, actress Leslie Jones will now be invited to every designer’s front row until the end of time. She will also be dressed by every designer. This is because she was the most entertaining and supportive fan of all time at Christian Siriano’s show, whooping and hollering her pleasure at her favourite designer’s garments. (Samples: “Work it!!” and “I want that!” and pretend-fainting.) You’ll recall, Siriano was the designer who stepped up to dress Jones when she complained on social media that she was having trouble finding a designer to dress her for the “Ghostbusters” premiere. Good move, Mr. Siriano.
THE DANCE OF FASHION
A chocolate wall (as in oozing chocolate), a celebrity beauty pageant, a martial arts display: the Opening Ceremony label has done all that, in the name of creative fashion shows. This time, the label presented a 40-minute dance piece, directed by filmmaker Spike Jonze and starring film and TV actors Mia Wasikowska and Lakeith Stanfield. The show was a touching exploration of relationships and monogamy. But where were the clothes? It was hard to get any sense of a coherent collection. And nobody was too fussed about that.
WAIT. WAS THAT THE SHOW?
It’s an unwritten rule: If you’re going to make the fashion crowd travel far — as in, out of Manhattan — it had better be worth it. A few years ago, Alexander Wang brought crowds to the Brooklyn Navy Yard on a frigid Saturday night. All was fine until the post-show traffic jam, but the show was good. This season, Wang brought masses of people to a dead-end street in Bushwick, Brooklyn. They stood behind metal barriers for more than an hour, and some resorted to sitting on garbage dumpsters to get a view. When the models finally arrived, on a bus, they were gone in a flash — the show lasted for less than five minutes before devolving into a chaotic after-party.
A DIFFERENT KIND OF MARTINI
Then there was the simultaneous show from German-born designer (and showman) Philipp Plein, who at the same time was keeping a couple thousand people outside his Manhattan venue. It was overcrowded both outside and inside, where the rapper Future performed while an eclectic group of models — including Snoop Dogg’s father — modeled the strappy leather designs. Dita von Teese did a burlesque routine that included writhing inside a giant martini glass. “I think fashion is changing, especially in this moment, yeah?” Plein said. Maybe not THIS much. VA VA VROOM!
THEN there was Ralph Lauren, who brought people out to suburban Westchester County. But wait. First, he ferried his guests in a fleet of cars playing calming, Lauren-provided jazz music. When they got to the destination — Lauren’s own garage, where he keeps his enormous vintage car collection — they were offered Champagne and pigs-in-a-blanket and fried olives (and later, dinner). In between there was a fashion show, a real one. The theme was James Bond — and of course, the cars. The clothes were cleverly synced with the esthetics of both. In all, the luxury on display was stunning (one car alone, a Bugatti 57SC, is estimated at $40 million). Whatever you felt about the whole vibe and what it signified, it can be said that the mood was much happier than at Wang or Plein.
All the week’s showmanship — and attempted showmanship — made it especially sad to see the departure, for Paris Fashion Week, of Thom Browne’s women’s show. The designer was known for his endlessly creative runway shows in a Chelsea gallery, often based on other-worldy themes, but always grounded in the highest-quality craftsmanship. He didn’t show this time, but at the beginning of the week was awarded with the prestigious Couture Council award from the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Whoopi Goldberg, dressed in a fanciful Browne ensemble from his “bathing beauty” show, gave a heartfelt speech about how he’d made people like her, who dressed “different,” feel good about it.
I AM WOMAN
Speaking of Goldberg, she was also on hand for a presentation by designer Tracy Reese that sought to give voice — in a literal way — to her models. Reese’s models did something models never do on a runway: speak. “I am strength, I am grace, I am a woman,” one was said softly. “A woman is strong, a woman is love, a woman is beauty,” another said. Another spoke of how she admired her mother. “Often when you come to these, people don’t look at the women, they’re looking at the clothes, and that why we’re doing this,” Reese said. “I wanted people to see the woman in the clothing, and hear something about who she is.”
A FIRST FOR STEINEM
There wouldn’t seem to be much that Gloria Steinem, the feminist activist and author, has yet to accomplish. But it turns out that until this week, Steinem, 83, had never been to a fashion show. That changed when she sat in the front row at Prabal Gurung. “There is a first time for everything, even at 83!” Steinem posted on Instagram. She called Gurung “a kind man doing great work in fashion and beyond.” It seemed like a dream come true for Gurung, who had made feminism a theme of recent seasons, and at his February show — soon after the women’s marches — came out in a T-shirt saying: “This Is What a Feminist Looks Like.”
Though there was generally less political talk this season, the Public School designers, Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne, made sure that immigration was on everyone’s mind. Their designs were meant to evoke everyday items often tossed aside — like plastic bags — because, Chow said, “When you think about immigrants and their contribution, they’re overlooked.” And Chow wore a cap that said: “DACA Dreamers,” expressing solidarity with the young immigrants who came to the United States as children and are living in the country illegally. Finally, they held their streetwear show in what was once the 19th-century Five Points neighbourhood, home to waves of immigrants. “It was symbolic that we meet here to celebrate the immigrant experience in New York,” Chow said, “and their contributions, what they bring to New York and to the world.”